By Matthew Asher
With Atlanta having the week off for Wildcard Weekend, it’s time to take a look at which teams Falcons fans should be rooting for and who they should hope get eliminated quickly.
In the middle of December there was an article about the best and worst potential match-ups for the Falcons. Now that the regular season is over, it’s time to talk about actual opponents since the best possible match-up (the Giants) will not be in this year’s playoffs.
Of the five other teams in the NFC side of the playoffs, Atlanta knows that San Francisco and Green Bay can not be opponents for next week. San Francisco is the other NFC team with a bye and with Atlanta having the top seed, they would face the lowest remaining seed. That means that Atlanta would only face Green Bay if the Packers defeated the Vikings this week and then defeated the 49ers the following week.
That leaves three potential opponents: the Seattle Seahawks, the Washington Redskins and the Minnesota Vikings. Of these teams, Atlanta has only faced the Redskins.
This is an unusual year for the NFL Playoffs because there isn’t one NFC team in the playoffs that has “stumbled” into the postseason. Washington has won seven straight games to get into the playoffs, Seattle is riding a five-game winning streak and the Vikings have won four straight games.
The first potential opponent for Atlanta is the Vikings. They play Green Bay this Saturday for the second time in two weeks to take on their NFC North rival. Minnesota is 1-1 against Green Bay, winning the Week 17 match-up at home 37-34 last week but losing to Green Bay 14-23 in Wisconsin during Week 13.
Obviously the key to beating the Vikings is to limit Adrian Peterson. With A.D. rushing for nearly 2,100 yards this season, that’s a lot easier said than done. For this game, Falcons fans should root for the Packers simply because Atlanta’s run defense (ranked 21st giving up 123 yards a game) needs improvement. The hope would then be that Green Bay and San Francisco beat each other up so much Atlanta would be able to walk over the winner in the NFC title game.
The other two opponents, Seattle and Washington will play on Sunday. This is a tricky pick. On one hand, Atlanta has already beaten Washington, but with Atlanta going 3-3 against NFC South opponents, it’s clear how tough it is to beat the same opponent twice in the same season.
With Atlanta being guaranteed home-field throughout the playoffs, Falcons fans should probably root for Seattle to win. Why? Even though Seattle does have a better win-loss record than Washington, Seattle’s Achilles Heel is playing away games. Seattle is the only team to go 8-0 at home this season but away from the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field, the ‘Hawks are just 3-5.
Readers may point out that if Seattle wins, it will be a win on the road. That’s correct, however Seattle has yet to string together two consecutive away wins this season. Two of the three away wins have come down to the wire with a Week 5 16-12 win over Carolina and a Week 13 23-17 overtime win. Seattle’s only comfortable away win was a 50-17 blowout of the Buffalo Bills. This means that all three away victories came against teams who didn’t qualify for the Playoffs. Seattle may beat Washington, but it doesn’t seem likely they can two it two games in a row.
For now, Atlanta fans should sit back and enjoy this wonderful week of Wildcard action. Also, if the Vikings beat the Packers on Saturday, Atlanta will already know their next opponent since the Vikings are the number six seed. If Green Bay wins, Atlanta has to play the waiting game until Sunday’s match-up is finished.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Falcons news, see CBS Sports Atlanta.
Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.